ATHENS — An overflow crowd was hanging on Kirby Smart’s every word Monday night at Athens Country Club. Georgia’s first-year coach was the featured speaker at the first meeting of the Touchdown Club of Athens and, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s an unresolved issue or two still hanging in the balance with a little over a week to go until the Bulldogs’ opener.
Perhaps it was just a fluke or perhaps it was conspiracy among the membership to try get a straight answer out of the evasive coach, but the first to ask a question was a young boy who couldn’t be very long into grade school. And, of course, he asked Smart who he planned to start at quarterback in the first game.
“I can be nice to him,” Smart said to a room full of laughter. “I wish I knew the answer to that. We’ve watched a lot of video from the scrimmage and we’re trying to make a determination after the scrimmage. We need to start getting two guys ready. I think it’s hard once you start getting more than two quarterbacks ready. We’ve got some guys who have looked good during camp. But to answer your question, I don’t know the answer to that.”
And so it went. To his credit, Smart had given fair warning. “Since there’s media in the audience tonight, y’all will be getting their treatment,” he said.
But actually, the admission that they’ll be paring the quarterback race down from three to two was somewhat of a revelation, though Smart had hinted often that would likely be the case. He said he and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney met all day Monday about the quarterbacks and other personnel matters.
Based on other comments throughout the night and in a radio interview conducted shortly before his speech, it seems likely those final two will be fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert and true freshman Jacob Eason. Late during his half-hour-plus remarks, Smart included Eason in his breakdown of freshmen or first-year players who are currently in the two-deep. And beforehand he told David Johnston of Athens radio station WRFC-AM 960 The Ref that Lambert’s experience is “very valuable at that position to help in these games,” referring specifically the Sept. 3 nationally-televised matchup against North Carolina.
But in an aside afterward, Smart simply said neither he nor Chaney have had a chance to sit down with the three quarterbacks to break down their decision. Until then, he said there wouldn’t be an announcement, and maybe not anyway.
Regardless of what direction the Bulldogs decide to go, Smart advised that nothing is going to be final regarding the quarterback competition.
“Absolutely not,” he said during the question-and-answer period. “There’s no such thing as a drop-dead date (to make a decision). But here’s my question: Just because we don’t announce one, does that mean there’s not one? What does North Carolina want to know? Why should I give them information. … But I certainly think their reps need to be done right by a certain date.”
Smart indicated that would happen later this week.
As for the recent ankle injury to tailback Elijah Holyfield, Smart indicated it’s “not a major deal” and that the freshman should be able to return to the field soon.
Smart shared a funny anecdote about Holyfield, the son of former world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield.
“I got on him the other day and he kind of flared up at me,” Smart said. “He’s the only kid I’ve seen that’s got muscles in his face. I thought he was going to give me a one-two punch.”
Later he said Holyfield is doing well in camp but is not expected to get a lot of carries in the opening game.
Smart appeared relaxed and seemed to enjoy Monday night’s event more than other speaking engagements he’s had. He shared in meticulous detail when it came to the processes and procedures he’s employing as coach. He joked often.
He said he was taken aback by how big the crowd was when he couldn’t find a parking place upon arrival at the country club of which he’s a member.
“Yep,” he quipped, “the honeymoon is almost over.”